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Where Nutritional and Economic Needs Meet, Innovation is Spurred

Blythe Nicole Kladney's picture

In the early 2000s Frank Daller and Brian Harrington were a world away from each other. Despite this, they had seemingly simultaneous experiences that would change their lives forever. In their separate travels through India and Africa, they were confronted with stunted, sick, and dying children: all because they simply did not have enough food to eat.  It was in these travels that both men – miles from each other – became committed to providing low-cost food solutions to fight malnutrition in the developing world. While they did not know it at the time, Malnutrition Matters (a 2007 Development Marketplace Grantee) was born.
Through their previous work with a private food company and various nonprofit organizations, both men realized that by installing simple electric food processing systems, they could provide much needed protein to low-income populations at an affordable price. Additionally, they realized that if they sold these systems to local entrepreneurs, they could provide a pathway to improved economic status for members of these communities who otherwise would be left to scratch out a living.  They developed their SoyCow system – their version of an electric food processing system designed to efficiently and economically produce soy milk and other soy based products like yoghurt and tofu – and installed them in numerous hospitals, orphanages, and schools across the developing world.“

Typically these people cannot afford protein like eggs or milk. With our systems in place, we were able to provide a protein rich supplement for 700-1000 kids each day per system,” Hart Jansson, the president of Malnutrition Matters, said of watching how quickly lives were being changed by such a simple solution. “This increase of protein made a significant difference in their health. With a better diet, children were focused, learning better, and those who invested in the system were improving their status and creating an economically viable community.”

Despite this profound social impact, Malnutrition Matters was struggling to survive.

The electrified regions of developing countries were only a very particular niche of regions to serve. Therefore, our capital was extremely limited and we were working out of our homes,” Mr. Daller said of the organization’s humble and economically difficult beginnings. “Our only income came from selling the SoyCows to a specific, niche market; leaving very little room for growth.”

The two founders faced a fundamental question that many nonprofit organizations inevitably face: how to survive economically and not lose the priceless impact their organization has on so many lives. Through some difficult discussions, brainstorming, and relying on Mr. Harrington’s engineering background. Malnutrition Matters realized their solution: the VitaGoat.

“Operating without the need for electricity, the VitaGoat system uses locally-available fuels to operate the processing system. With a non-electric solution, the two founders were able to expand their organization to remote areas of the developing world where malnutrition is worst and electricity is scarce, very expensive, or completely unreliable. They were able to expand their organization to impact those in most need, all the while saving their organization.

“Our innovation was spurred by the fact that we were struggling mightily to survive,” Mr. Jansson explained, “It was a case of the ‘nutritional necessity’ of the people we were helping, and the ‘economic necessity’ of the survival of Malnutrition Matters.”